Skip to main content

It Should Just Work

My father died of cancer in the Fall of 1996. Sometime around July that year he drove home in a new car; he went out to get a Cadillac but came home with a Buick. "It was $10,000 cheaper". He had always wanted the Caddy, but couldn't turn down the deal.

He was stick thin after 9 months of treatment, surgery, and more treatment; "drink the poison, it's kill or be killed,  the trick is to stop in time". I was there to tell him the doctors wanted to try another round, but he refused to continue treatments. He knew it was over.

When Steve Jobs presented his vision for the "spaceship" Apple campus to Cupertino City Council, his breathing was labored, his body skeletal. He knew it was over, and anyone who's witnessed the slow but definitive decline of someone dying from cancer could see that.

But there he was, pushing his final (public) vision, visionary to the end.

Positive Discrimnation
I didn't know Jobs; the closest I ever came was through an unflattering comparison to him because he saw people in black and white--"heroes and assholes"--as one of his Next employees (a board member of my second company) described while explaining the importance of gray areas to me (and then proceeded to give an amateur diagnosis of the real issues behind my discontent with a non-performing CEO. Classic VC stuff).

I've never been a fan of the gray areas and don't think they should be celebrated, though personalizing those characterizations isn't particularly productive.

What is productive, however, is that razor-sharp quickness of judgment, that ability to know what works and what doesn't. Like the investor in yesterday's post, Jobs was 'sometimes wrong but never in doubt'.

That kind of discrimination produced a line of products that enabled the world to do great things better, faster, more creatively, and with greater reach than ever before.

Rarely First, Usually Better
He wasn't first with most things. The PC was envisioned in 1968 by Douglas Engelbart, and introduced commercially by Micral in 1972. Jobs & Wozniak introduced the Apple I in 1976. It was much better.

The iPod was not the first MP3 player; it was best. Audio Highway was the first.

The iPhone was not the first smartphone by any measure; HandSpring had a cell-plugin, but IBM introduced the first fully integrated phone + PDA, or smartphone in 1992. Jobs, however, nailed it.

It Should Just Work
Jobs believed it should just work, it should be great;  he embraced being the best as the target, not just incrementally better.

In some ways, Jobs and the recent Apple are a perfect example of American exceptionalism. He seemed to believe that poor design was an injustice to fight against and ridicule. The people who chose bad but affordable design deserved what they got: a cheap bundle of struggle.

Inspired by that ethic, I came up with the GiftWorks tagline: "software anyone can use, and everyone can afford." The driving ethic was that it should just work, it should be obvious and simple so that anyone could use it without reaching for a manual or training. We never quite got there, but we were better than the others for a long time.

That was a borrowed ethic, without his brilliance to know the difference between was just worked and what sucked--in a lot of cases.

Educate the Blockers
Jobs likely left writing, designs, ideas behind. I'm hoping there will be an interactive museum, a place where the middle managers of the world can go to learn about innovators and visionaries and how to work with and enable them.

That might seem like an odd suggestion; yes I'd hope for a place all of us can visit and be delighted in what we learn and experience, but perhaps the celebration of Jobs' life can serve to educate the blockers to become enablers and catalyzers, so more visionaries can thrive and change lives for the good in the process.

The tendency to obstruct or crush that which is different or challenging impedes human progress, but it seems like the default human reaction to change, new ideas and those who carry them.

Apple was at its best when its prime driver was uninhibited by the machinations of corporate structure and biases: at its beginning, and upon his return from his forced absence that led to Apple's dismal years in between.

He was a true founder, with his brilliance and faults and challenges, and he carried the torch without apologizing for it, leaving us with the leading but important question: what is the lesson of Steve Jobs life?


Popular posts from this blog

Beta Signup

I've been working for quite a while on a new search concept, though the further in I get, the closer the rest of the world gets to what we're doing. So today I'm inviting you to sign up for the rather modest beta, which will be ready soon if we can nail down a few difficult  details. Jawaya is a way of navigating the web and getting better results. And that's as much as I can say right now, because we're not a funded startup, and things are moving really fast in this space--it's going to be very competitive. I predict there will be about 10 funded startups in the next 6 months doing something similar. One of them will be mine, and we aim to make it the best. We're raising a round of capital to fund the team, and are shooting for early sustainability. This is my fifth company; my fourth in the tech space, and my third software company. I think it will be the biggest and can possibly have a positive impact on the world by reducing the amount of time it takes

Where Innovation Happens

As I get closer to a go/no-go decision on a project, I've been thinking about the difference about my vision for the project and the supportive innovations to enable the core innovations The vision combines (in unequal parts) product, core innovation as I imagine it, the application of that core innovation, design, marketing,  developer ecosystem, and business development. The core innovation enables everything else, but it's the application of the innovation that makes it meaningful, useful, and in this case, fun. This week we're testing initial approaches to the implementation for our specific application, and that's where we'll develop the enabling innovations, which is basically where the rubber meets the road. The difference is that the enabling innovation happens at the source of real problems only encountered in the making of something, and in a project like this just getting the essence of it right isn't enough; it also has to be safe, the compone

The Real Jobs Problem

It's the economy, stupid.  Well, yes, it always has been, if you're in the distortion field of politics.  But whose economy? The pundits, the White House, the Republican candidates all miss the mark. They keep talking about debt, taxes, and monetary policy. None of those things tell the real story behind today's economy.  The Old Economy Keynes was right--in the old economy. Economy gets weak, pump some money into the economy through public works projects, which  1) puts people to work, which  2) boosts the economy and  3) generates new tax revenue, while  4) leaving us with another generation of reliable infrastructure to support  5) more growth (for growth's sake, which is another post).  The Beach Ball Imagine a beach ball, partially deflated to represent a recession. Got it? Now imagine the govt pumping that beach ball back up through sensible public investment (which we haven't seen for decades). The New Economy Same beach ball, same pum